Monday, February 5, 2018

HAZEL O’CONNOR: She’s No Dummy [1981]

Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen fanzine, 1981
Introduction text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet*

This interview was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #8, dated 1981, by Managing Editor Julia Masi. – Robert Barry Francos, 2018.

She has the smooth, clear voice of a 1940s chanteuse, the guts of a hard rocker, and the theatrical presence of Marcel Marceau. Scurrying about the stage, her pale skin is made whiter by make-up. With hair a strikingly unnatural shade of red, she is the perfect mime, creating characters to personify her songs. But Hazel O’Connor refuses to be manipulated.

On her own since the age of 16 when she left home in Coventry, England, Hazel has traveled from Beirut to Tokyo, working odd jobs as a singer, painter, dancer, and actress. Once penniless in the Sahara Desert, she is now a movie star on two continents, thanks to her portrayal of Kate in Breaking Glass [see film trailer below – RBF, 2018]. And now, she is embarking on a recording and concert career.

Sitting in her room at the Iroquois Hotel on an afternoon before her New York City debut last April, Hazel sipped tea, toyed with her corned-beef sandwich, and speculated about her career, her album Sons and Lovers on A&M Records, and the music scene.

“Singing is what I want to do. For me, that’s my major form of expression. It makes me feel the most.” She claims to have started her career with a “poxie Minnie Mouse voice,” but soon learned to sing with her guts when she found situations that she wanted to sing about. She learned the piano from an old boyfriend, who wrote the notes on the keyboard with a felt-tipped pen. Then she learned “a bit of guitar,” and asked her brother Neil to teach her to write songs.

“The first songs I wrote were about this girl, Montana Wildhack. She was the porno star in Slaughterhouse Five who gets kidnapped from Beverly Hills to mate with Billy Pilgrim. I have about three songs on her because of that book.” But her first single, “E-I-Addio,” was inspired by the fights her parents had before they broke up. And the 13 songs she wrote for the Breaking Glass soundtrack were laced with political overtones.

“I would never want to be a politician,” she admits. “I hate people pushing a point down at me in a too obvious way. I write about what I see around me, what I feel. People can make what they like out of my observations; like, people get meaning out of an artist painting pictures. I try to see lyrics in double images. My lyrics are quite pointed. They have their meanings underlying, of what I want to say, for anyone who wants to dig deeper. Sometimes, it starts with the obvious on the top level, and goes to the less obvious, with an underneath level, which a lot of people don’t bother to find out unless they listen.”

Influenced by the Velvet Underground and the Small Faces, she follows a definite formula when writing music: “Both of those groups have very structured ideas as far as songs are concerned, even though they played very loose. It was always verse, chorus, verse, chorus. Or possibly, middle eight or solo, finish on a chorus, or stop; end of song. I like that cos I’m one of those people who works well around a structure. If you put limits around what you’re doing, you can go past your limits and set new limits. I haven’t got past my first set of limits.”

Sons and Lovers is a reaction to what she has seen on the European music scene. After the release of Breaking Glass, Hazel was invited to all the “in, clique-y dos.” While making public appearances at clubs and discotheques, Hazel tried to stay out of the limelight and just drink in what was happening around her.

“In those days (1979), it was sort of a new regime where fashion hadn’t really been established. It was a cabaret-like setting with everyone coming up and wriggling around. It reminded me of Berlin back in World War days, with people watching other people and getting their rocks off.”

The passions of love and war are the central theme of her album, which includes an unusual cover of the traditional Irish song, “Danny Boy.” “I just imagined this smoky desolate field that had been a battleground forever, which was, like, in Ireland in the days of the Revolution, and always picking up arms against the oppressor, with this girl who’s singing about her lover. And gradually you change the coin, and you’ve got this lovely, lilting tune, then suddenly it goes, ‘Par-rump-par-rump,’” she started to imitate the drum and sings, “’Oh, Danny Boy…,’ because they gave people lively songs to make them march better.

“People are redundant. Whenever there’s economic declines, people start looking for scapegoats and that’s the first problem. And we have all these fuckin’ arms problem. And Big Money. Who needs it? They’re living life in true rock’n’roll fashion; let’s all destroy ourselves. I’m not interested in the destruction of the planet. People get so small-minded about what politics is about. Politics is about living together as people with feelings, and it’s been institutionalized to the point where my music comes in, because I really believe in feelings. It’s been said that I’m a ‘silly girl who’ll probably never hurt anybody but myself,’ but I don’t really care, if that’s the point.”

But what Hazel does care about is conveying her kaleidoscopic visions to her audience. By combining her theatrical talents with rock’n’roll, she had come up with a rowdy, regimented stage show.

“As big a love as I have of racing around on stage, I have a love of old-time cabaret. Not musical cabaret, but that sometimes seedier side of life that I know from being a dancer and stuff like that. I’d like to be able to stand up there with a piano, or even without anything, and be able to sing. I think that must be a great feeling.

“In England, my medium is mostly rock’n’roll concerts, but in France, we had a hit with ‘Will You,’ off the Breaking Glass album.” Naturally, having a hit song meant that Hazel had to make personal appearances and do a barrage of French rock’n’roll television shows. “And because everybody is so penny-pinching, all they wanted was just me to go over and mime to a tape. I at least waned to take my keyboard player. So me and Roots went over and he played piano and I sang it live. It was real good fun, cos that’s like another part of me.

“I really love stuff like old-fashioned jazz. I love Gershwin, Cole Porter, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Judy Garland and Edith Piaf. Women singers like that mean more to me than Grace Slick or Janis Joplin any day. I listened to the heavy rock scene. I liked Nico. She was maybe the first one I liked, but she didn’t go up there and sing and try to be a man. After that, I like all my contemporary girl singers that are happening now. I think they’re far more exciting than in the ‘60s, like Siouxie from the Banshees. And Debbie Harry; I like what she does.”

Kate, Hazel’s cinematic alter-ego, seems to be a composite of all her contemporaries, but with a few similarities to the real-life O’Connor: “I’m not going to disown my character. A lot of this that happen to (Kate) happened to me later, like going a bit nuts in the end. But some of the reasons I felt like going nuts were totally different. The real reason why people go nuts in any artistic sense is that people never recognize them for what they want to be recognized for; I just was not getting much recognition for being a musician, or being a writer. I was being recognized for being a puppet and a dummy.”

Hazel, who sees herself as “resilient and stable,” diagnoses the death of the punk movement: “The media has made bands inaccessible. They just started off on one track and finished up on another. Like the Clash started out as a street band, and eventually they had to give into commerciality to make money. That is classed in some people’s opinion as ‘selling out.’ I don’t see it that way. They’ve just become inaccessible. I understand how that happens. I used to see Mick Jones hanging out a lot. It gets to be difficult. I still think they make good music; it’s just that things are not the same anymore. Things can’t stay the same.

“We did this pop show, ‘Top of the Pops,’ when Breaking Glass was in its height. I’d been taken there in some old mini-cab; when we came out to be met, in what we thought would be our cab, there was a bloody Bentley waiting for us. I’d never felt so embarrassed in all my life, as getting into that Bentley. The record company had sent it as a present to sort of cheer me up. All I could think was, ‘Oh, no! What am I going to do with this thing?’ When we got to the gates of the television studio, there were loads of kids waiting for the stars to come out. And I remember physically sliding down in my seat and saying, ‘Oh, no!’ But that’s not fair to the kids, so I kind of popped up again and went, ‘Oh, hello!’” She demonstrated by sitting straight up with a stiff, toothy smile on her face.

“See, I believe in a certain commercial process. There’s two ways of looking at it: being absolutely against the media; then you shouldn’t do interviews. You should do nothing. You should just stick to your guns, if that’s what you believe in. Or, you believe in the art of commerciality. And I think there is a certain art to it. I think publicity is a very interesting phenomenon and I think media happenings are great to get involved in. I know I’m not a product, and I’m not going to be told I am by anybody.”

Video (c) Gareth Lewis:

* Please note that I make no financial gain from any image, as I do not have any advertising on this site.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Review: Act & Punishment – The Pussy Riot Trials

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet

Act & Punishment: The Pussy Riot Trials
Produced, written and directed by Evgeny Mitta
Cleopatra Entertainment / 2Plan2 / Paperworks / MVD Visual
90 minutes, 2018

You say you want a revolution…

Pussy Riot is now more than just a band, they are the symbols of a social movement that have spawned a few documentaries. Unlike the United States, in many countries it’s the art students that are on the forefront of revolution. They see an imaginative vision of what is possible and what is needed through eyes of those who have studied philosophy, art history, and culture, and have the education to extrapolate from what is to what can be. This scares a lot of politicians.

This documentary wisely starts off with this theme, interviewing painters and art historians, and showing how the “artist” has been at the forefront of activism, even in the time of Ivan the Terrible. This motif is picked up repeatedly as a subtopic throughout the film. When we first meet our heroes, however, they are at trial, stating their names, places of birth, etc., to the judge.

Once we get to know identify the trio that make up the core of Pussy Riot (PR), we “meet” see them individually, talking to the director on camera, discussing how they came to where they met, and from there forward. Present are some consistent themes, such as politics, art, and especially Feminism. Some might call them post-Feminists (a term of which I am not fond), as they are seen in feminine make-up and wearing fine dresses, as opposed to the stereotypical gear (plaid shirts, overalls, etc.). To me, PR is more punk rock Feminism, by taking on the oppressive image of sexualized women and reclaiming it as something else. This is the empowerment that spawned PR.

PR played a post-punk rock sound music reminiscent musically of the likes of Black Flag’s “Rise Above,” spitting out lines of protest like bullets, but spiritually they are closer to the riot grrrls of the mid-1990s (aka the better half of grunge), and ideologically leaning toward anti-capitalists like the Crass. In a few impromptu performances, they played guerrilla style in places like on top of a bus in a terminal, or in front of a prison. However, it was an attempted show which was shut down before they could even play that got them arrested for “hooliganism,” which was in the main Russian Orthodox Church – the equivalent of St. Peter’s in Vatican City – whose congregation includes Putin. The head priest had come out in favor as Putin for President, and this was PR’s comment on that. Before they could even play, they were overwhelmed by a bunch of men, and shortly were arrested.

It was at this point PR became a meta-symbol for revolutionary vision and tactics as art. The video posted of them went viral and the music actually became secondary to what they stood for, which is, in my opinion, unfortunate. Movements can come and go, but the message of the music will remain afterwards. But I’m adding to what is beyond the scope of the documentary.

It’s very well put together in a mostly chronological order, mixed with post-event interviews with the trio of PR (Nadia, Masha, Katia; though up to 11 others have been in and out of the band over time), as well as thought-out placements of art-as-activism, as I mentioned. The whole she-bang is in Russian, of course, and there are subtitles throughout.

By switching back and forth between PR and art-proper, the interest in both is kept at high levels, never sinking to overexposure of people nor ideology.

An interesting aspect for me is how what is going on in Russia in this documentary is echoed in current United States under a Republic president, House and Senate. The assumption of power, the use of religious symbolism by the government (here it’s Evangelicals, there Russian Orthodox), and having an emboldened right wing – err – wing that uses force to smash their counterparts in a cowardice of indirect contact by officials; in the film, we see muscular men destroying peaceful protests by kicking down tents, and assaulting people who they deem as threats. Charlottesville, anyone?

My one complaint about the whole PR movement, and this documentary in particular, is that as a punk rocker, I am interested in the music, as well as the activism. Talking about, say, the SoCal scene without hearing “Holiday in Cambodia,” for example, sort of confuses the point, and takes out a key factor of both why and especially how the protests work.

There’s lots of footage of various marches of protest both in support of PR (mostly outside Russia), and those who oppose (the largest segment inside Russia). An interesting one that is massive is led by the Church, full of women in traditional babushka headgear reminiscent of the hijab, or sheitels. It’s almost like religion does not want women to have hair. But I digress…

In a very short time, Pussy Riot went from relative obscurity to them and their crude woolen hats turned into hood-type balaclavas becoming iconic to the 2010s (arguably replaced in culture by the anti-Trump pussy hats); that is the political cache of PR. And yet, the name Pussy Riot immediately gets a nod from everyone. Yet, very few in the West know what they look like, what they actually stand for, and what is their musical direction. That’s part of why this documentary is so important on the world stage. It humanizes both the movement and who is behind it.

This is especially necessary in today’s political environment, where societies in general are becoming more isolated and reactionary, and religious fanaticism (in the guise of fiscal conservativism) threatens the fabric of modern culture and the social bonds. As much as I appreciate and respect the real #metoo movement, I’m glad this came before it, otherwise it would just most likely be lumped into a single wheelhouse.

With Madonna
The movement is worldwide, but the focus is on Russia here, with protesters, and bands like Faith No More (“We Care a Lot”) playing in Moscow while wearing PR-inspired woolen headgear. When PR are sentence to prison in Russia, the worldwide protests are compiled into a powerful montage while we hear the song “Free Pussy Riot” by Peaches and Simonne Jones.

The extras are English subtitles, chapters, a 2:00 photo slideshow (mostly taken from the film proper), over the “Free Pussy Riot” song, and the trailer. I would have liked to have had a couple (at least) of their music videos included, if possible).

The documentary ends at the same time as the trial does in 2011, which is not surprising considering the film’s title. What happened after, well, I’m guessing that may just be a sequel, which I will also look forward to seeing.

Extra Videos:

Monday, January 15, 2018

Four Job Searching Hints You May Not Have Heard Before

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet

When searching for a job it’s good to realize that the way forward is not black and white, nor one sided. There are many ways to look at your approach, and further steps. To paraphrase what they say in Twelve Step programs, not all of it is in your power, which leads me to my first point:

When you go on a job interview, and the person behind the desk seems a bit tense, if they answer the phone in the middle of your speaking, or you feel like they are trying to rush you, do not take that personally. Odds are, as they probably manage a department or section, they are also under a lot of stress and probably have meetings to attend or need to get immediate business done. This does not include if you are asked something inappropriate, such as age, religion, orientation, etc.; I’m referring more towards mood. During one interview I had, the person doing the hiring was unconsciously moving their finger in a circular pattern, as if to say, “Move it along.” Some might have felt they did not care about me and wanted me out of there to get to the next candidate. Well, I was hired at that company.

For another, more recent interview, it was for a large financial firm. The conference felt like it was going great: I was there for half an hour, and we were smiling and it seemed very positive. Then I was asked where I saw myself in five years. My answer was, “It would be nice to move up at some point,” indicating I am a hard worker and intend to stay at the job rather than move on. The response I received from one of the two people in the room doing the interviewing was, “The only place to move up is my job.” Two more quick questions and I was out the door.

After that, I took a couple of computer classes to update my skills, and towards the end of the second and final course, the instructor asked everyone what their plans were for their new-found skills. When it was my turn, I responded, “I’ve worked in an office for most of my life, and I assume I’ll continue to do that, but I think teaching a class like this would be fun.” Two days later I was given the opportunity to be the instructor for a three-hours-a-week night class for by that instructor. Having never taught before, I naturally said, “Yes.” I received decent evaluations from the class, so I was given all the night classes for three months. Then the instructor left, and I applied for the job. Being the inside candidate, I was hired on permanently.

In both cases, of the financial firm and the computer class, I pretty much gave the same answer, but the responses were polar opposites: one received my comment as a threat, the other as an opportunity. As all things are subjective, this was how they heard it, which had little to do with me. Therefore, it is pointless to take it personally.

When talking about part-time, temporary or casual positions, most people do not take them seriously. I find this to be a mistake. Nearly all the employment I have had in my life had started out that way. I maintain that working hard at these kinds of positions are important and can lead to much better things for a few reasons.

In today’s work culture, it’s getting harder to find full-time jobs that are permanent right from the start. When a worker is hired as a part-time, temp or casual, it gives the employer a chance to see what kind of worker you are, which can lead to something more permanent. For example, I once worked for a media company where I was hired for one week as a temp. For those 5 days, all I did was call radio stations across the United States and asked them if they covered medical topic stories, checking yes or no on a spreadsheet. A silly job, but I worked hard at it, and a couple of months afterwards, I was called by the company and offered a position as a Data Processer, because they were happy with what I did with the radio stations.

Just because you are hired as a part-time, temp or casual for a certain position, does not mean that is where you will end up. You have heard about the Hidden Job Market? Those are jobs that never make it to the public sphere, and are usually filled internally. When you work as a part-time, temp or casual, you still have access to the internal listings, and if you make a good impression, that puts you in a good position as the inside candidate.

When you look at a job listing, it may be quite long. Do not panic; do not get discouraged. Other than certifications (e.g., a truck driver’s license, Food Safety, Fall Protection), it is important to think of the ad as a wish list. The longer the notification, the better the odds are that anyone applying will not have all of the requirements requested. In fact, if there are ten items listed and you can do the core three, they will probably take you over the person who has only the other seven.

For example, let’s say the ad requires knowledge of Word, Excel and Access. Odds are they will hire someone who knows Word and Excel over someone who knows Word and Access. It all comes down to the needs of the company, and since that probably will not be known beforehand, you have nothing to lose by trying. Another example is if the ad states “five years’ experience.” If you have a good record of keeping jobs for long periods, there is a good chance they will take you with three years’ experience over someone with five years’, but had seven jobs over that time period.

This is also a good time to look at transferable skills. For instance, if the ad states the candidate must organize events, you may think, “I’ve never done that.” However, if you have put together a wedding, a child’s birthday, a parent’s anniversary, then you have probably worked harder organizing an event than the company will require, since those who came before you will have already set up the procedures. All you would be required is to fill in the blanks. They probably reuse the same hall, the same caterer, etc., so you will have all the contacts pre-set.

If you come across any company that offers to find you a job for a fee, tread carefully and think before you respond. The standard is that fees are paid by an employer, not the employee. As an example, there is a company, whose name I will not mention because they are just one of many, who offer to help you find employment in a particular field for $75. If you send them the money, they send you a list of companies in that line of work, which you can get online for free. Period. They have technically aided your search as promised so they have met their bare legal obligation, but it is still a rip-off.

* * *

Searching for a job is time consuming, and it is a job in itself, but there are ways to look at it that can increase your odds, lower your anxiety level, and help you keep a cool perspective. Thinking outside the box is not just a commonly used phrase; it can aid you in securing employment.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Music Reviews: January 2018

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet
Reviews are in alphabetical order, not by ranking

Chesty Malone and the Slice ‘em Ups
We’re Still Dead
I have to say, their initial LP, Now We’re Gonna See What Disaster Really Means, was a killer punk record with a hard line towards horror and murder, much like the early Cramps (though replacing the voodoobilly with hardcore screaming). While I missed the sophomore release, Torture Rock (review coming soon), I’m so glad to have the opportunity to review this and, meanwhile, if you get a chance to see them live (usually locally in New York at Brooklyn’s Lucky 13 Saloon and around the Tri-State area), avail yourself. From the first cut, “Destroy All Humans,” with its cutting and jerky guitar riff, you know this is going to be in for a shit load of fun. Anthony Van Hoek’s guitar is electric in its tone and attack, well matched by lead vocalist Jaqueline Blownaparte, who wisely talks-screams-sings her material to get the most punch out of them. This song is followed by the even better “HSH” (“Hellfire Shitfire Hellfire”), which plays around with the tempo. It also shows that Ms. J can handle the speed, spitting out the voluminous lyrics, as much as Ant follows suit on his axe. Now I can go on and on repetitiously about how much fun this release is, so I’m going to let you mostly extrapolate. Just know there’s not a bad (or slow) cut here. Even with a couple of silly ones (not an insult; after all, the Cramps did “I Was a Teenage Werewolf”) like “Fun Things to Do During Robberies” and “Gorilla Girl from Outer Space,” the choruses are very chantable for the audience (the rest of the band fills in singing for us on this collection), as with most of these. Make sure you listen to it in stereo form, because they play with the balance quite nicely, bouncing from ear to ear (i.e., kudos on the engineering!). And for those acquaintances of mine who make horror films (e.g., James Balsamo, Bill Zebub), this would make some great soundtrack material, such as the excellent “Midnight Madhouse”!

Clockwork Revolution
Clockwork Revolution
One could almost consider this Ft. Lauderdale-based hard rockin’ band a supergroup considering the past members have been or are currently in bands like Yngwie Malmsteen, W.A.S.P., Leatherwolf, Crimson Glory, and Kamelot, among others. They’ve also be compared to the likes of Dio and Judas P. Of course, this debut is metal, but what kind of metal?, you may be asking. It’s the grinding, mid-speed kind that’s not trying to impress with many speedy guitar solos. They work tightly as a unit, which is impressive. I certainly appreciate the lack of the need for guitarist Dewayne Hart having the ego in check and to not need to play with his cock out (metaphysically speaking, of course). The bottom is quite solid with Dirk Van Tilborg on bass and drummer Patrick Johansson. For me, the first weak point is that there is little variation between songs in speed or tone. They’re good at what they do, don’t get me wrong, it’s just repetitious (and this coming from someone who adores the Ramones). The second is actually Wade Black’s vocals. Again, he’s a decent singer, there’s nothing wrong there, it’s just… he sounds stereotypically pretty much like every other metal singer with the warble at the end of the musical bar. He’s singing, “A violation, I’m feeling mean / Don’t tread on me, I’m venomous,” but it feels empty and same-old-same-old. And every song has the same vocal tone. Again, not bad, just… whatever. But what the hell do I know about this kind of metal. If the bands I mentioned before are your speed, there is a good chance you’ll like this. Sometimes serviceable is good enough. Lyrics included with the CD. /

Fred Gillen Jr.
What She Said
I’ve oft contended that punk is folk music, played acoustically. They’re both protest-focused, lo-fi and stripped down. Look how many punk musicians have released singer-songwriter collections as they aged. Gillen falls into this category, as well. Playing in the homeland of punk during the 1980s, at the likes of CBGB and Irving Plaza in bands like Rain Deputies, he too has come around to the acoustic, though he has lost none of his punch in this, his 10th album (though the first I’ve heard). This release is strongly pro-American, but it’s amazing how strongly opposite in attitude of, say, the hard rock-based group Kinlin. Rather than fight for your your America to keep it strong, it’s more thoughtful, opening with the powerful “Prayer for America” (“I may not believe in God / But I say a little prayer for America”). Gillen doesn’t look at refugees as a danger, rather he takes their side to show how important they are for the continuation of the country (“Future American”). He also looks at people who are persecuted with the likes of “Julia” and in “Baltimore Burns,” he presents a list of evils in modern culture, such as the death of Trevor Martin, yet points a finger at both sides of governmental Aisle. The latter is a powerful piece. There is a mix of positiveness and negativity throughout, but in both cases there is a measure of hope. Gillen’s voice is well-suited for this style, and it’s worth a listen if you want music with a conscious.
Dys Records /

James Lee Stanley
Alive at Last – In Philadelphia
The last time I heard Stanley, he was teamed with John Batdorf, doing acoustic and folkish covers of the Rolling Stones. Here, we are presented with a full concert with a small group of what sounds like good personal friends. Yeah, this definitely has more of the feel of a house concert than being in a big hall (or even a club). This model fits Stanley well. Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: there are a couple of covers, one of which is a very soulful version of the Stones’ “Miss You.” Not one of my fave Stones songs, being a disco-era production, but Stanley actually brings some emotion to it rather than the shell of machismo. There is also a version of the Beatles’ “Drive My Car” (can a Beatles cover album be far behind, I wonder?), that is without the annoying “Beep Beep yeah!” Backed by Cheryl Prashker on percussion and Chad Watson on electric bass, they take a back step to let Stanley and his guitar stand out front. In typical (happily) modern singer-songwriter fashion, his songs are filled with sentiment, and just a bit of exotic musical flairs and influences (e.g., “All I Ever Wanted”). It’s a long player, but his music is relaxed and enjoyable. Also included are the song introductions, which are mostly fun, though at least one is cringeworthy (i.e., for the lovely “Worry Bout You”). Politics does make a couple of appearances, such as “Do It in the Name,” and “The Street Where Mercy Died,” written after the Bush treatment of Katrina (though it could reflect in the Trump-era Puerto Rico fiasco). The finale, “The More I Drink” also has a touch of current affairs, as well as audience participation. This isn’t naval gazing as much as bringing the passion to the forefront as it’s not whiny, but it does touch on something deeper without being cryptic (as was REM’s “Losing My Religion”). It’s a fine release and it does show Stanley’s gifts, which is a positive.
Beachwood /

The Last Stand
Sharing two members of the band Clockwork Revolution, this SoFla is very different in tone and sound, and I’m happy about that. While keeping the heavy tones, drummer Patrick Johansson and guitarist Dewayne Hart are joined by Tom Lynch on guitar and bassist Chris Eversoul; Hart does double duty as vocalist. While his vox is often double-tracked, it actually works quite solidly. The songs are musically strong with some great crooning chops and are definitely quite chantable in parts; the pace often changes from ballad to rave-ups. The lyrics of the songs tend to be a bit on the Conservative side, with topics often veering towards insisting you’re part of an evil machine out of your control and there’s a war coming with “the radicals are at your door.” For example, in “Unthinkable,” they posit “The time has come for fighting wars / Even if it’s on our shores.” This is definitely jingoistic stuff wrapped up in some phenomenal music. If you’re into chanting “USA! USA! USA!” (not that this band does that), you might find yourself grooving to it. I picture pick-up trucks, gun-racks, Coors (the beer of gun lovers by gun lovers), and red MAGA hats. Politics aside, the music and vocals are really great. My liberal heart that loves America as much as you guys may have issue with nationalistic songs like “The Last Stand,” “Unthinkable,” “Stand or Fall,” and “Blood of Our Fathers,” but I am content with the zeitgeist beauty of “Monday Rain.” /

Oral Fuentes
Rise Up 
When I talked to Oral a few years ago, before listening to Oral Culture, his Oral Fuentes Reggae Band’s first album, he said, “We’re a bit faster in concert than the record.” He was right, but it was still a killer release. Now here’s the second self-released product, again recorded by Randy Woods in his studio. Well, his earlier comment becomes moot in the first song, with the extremely energetic “Creole Man,” and then rarely lets up. All but one song is an original, so you know the messages that the band brings is going to be positive, because that is Oral’s thing. It shows here. I’ve heard most of these songs live now, and some are just killer, like “Punta Rock,” “Feelin’ Dread,” the ‘60s-ish “I Saw You,” “Do Me Like That,” and the call-and-response “Dance,” for example. One thing about that last song is that it is an audience pleaser live, which is hard to translate to studio, but odds are you’ll find yourself chanting along, so you’ll get it. Being from Belize way back when, Oral’s style of reggae is not the same as the Marley slow grind, but more somewhere between that and ska, and I’m okay with that. The last two pieces, “Rise Up” and “Praising Jah” are closer to traditionally what you might imagine reggae to be, but with as powerful a band as this is, there is magic here.

Paul Carrack
Soul Shadows
Despite his history with the likes of Roxy Music, anti-Semite Roger Waters and Mike + the Mechanics, I became aware of Carrack during his collaboration with Nick Lowe. Left to his own devices, such as this collection, his output could – and probably should – be considered blue-eyed soul. I mean, he sounds like a white guy singing soul, in much the way the Police sounded like white guys singing reggae, but Carrack has a better voice than Sting. Backed with horns, and especially numerous strings, he plays most of the main instruments (guitar, bass, keyboards) and is usually backed by his co-producer Peter van Hooke and Jack Carrack (both on drums and percussion, with rare exception). While occasionally delving in the Lite-jazz equivalent of soul, Carrack’s passion comes through on all the tunes. This is good music to be driving with, especially since it’s an across-the-board sound that probably won’t be offensive to anyone. The reason I’m not picking out particular songs is because they are all consistently decent, including a dip into country with “Watching Over Me.” Good stuff. The CD has a nice booklet with lyrics included. /  

The Tracy G. Group
This is some serious and solid hard rockin’ metal, led by Tracy G (is it okay to say Grijalva?) and his wild guitar playing. Michael Beatty meets the metal with equally mad vocals, and they are backed solidly by Randy Oviedo’s bass and Patrick Johansson on drums (though Adrian Aguilar and Ray Luzier occasionally fill in on skins). The tone of the music is definitely harsh and angular, which is matched equally by the lyrics of songs like “The Leech” and “Arrogant Prick.” The latter fits well next to Stiff Little Fingers’ “I Don’t Like You,” The Dickies’ “Hideous,” or the more obscure “Dreaming of Saturday Again” by Boston-based Blackjacks. Dense and unyielding, the sound is a musical sledgehammer that follows its own rules. There is little here that is formulaic. One could almost see it as metal punk since its anger and unconventionality make it a strong standout. Whether the songs have lyrics or are instrumental, Tracy’s guitar attacks with a whiplash sound, and Beatty’s eccentric reading gives the listener something to chew on. Not quite “Other Music,” it’s still something that may make you sit up and go, “saywhatnow?” That’s a good thing. I’d love to see them live; it’s a bit off-beat for mosh pit skanking, but definitely can rave up a crowd. The CD booklet contains lyrics. /

The Demo That Got the Deal: Joe Vig’s Pop Explosion Vol. 4
Boston musician Joe Viglione has been releasing compilation albums for decades, and he has a pretty good ear. As has come to pass in this series incarnation, there is a music section and an interview one based on his Pop Explosion podcasts programs. Thankfully, he doesn’t mix them, but has the music first followed by the conversations, so you can listen to the tunes uninterrupted. As he once told me, he considers the talking parts as historical documents, and I agree, and it’s a wise choice to make it “side one” and “side two.” There are definitely some standout artists and songs. For me, they include Steve Gilligan’s (of Boston perennials Fox Pass) “Before the Fall,” Kitoto’s “Proud Soul Heritage,” the powerpop of Australian group Audioscam’s “Bridgetown Girls,” JASON’s quirky ‘80s pop “Hylas” (reminding me “Out of Touch” by Lizzie Borden and the Axes), two heavier tracks with Joe Black’s “Armageddon,” and Metal Pistol’s “D.O.A.,” and the soft rock of Kenny Selcer’s excellent “It’s All Around Me” and Joe’s own “Secret Things.”  The interview segments include Ian Anderson (lead singer of Jethro Tull), glam rocker Alan Merrill (who wrote Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll,” and is a huge pop star in Japan), top-line producer Rob Fraboni (such as Dylan, Clapton, the Stones, and the Beach Boys), and Dick Wagner (Alice Cooper and Lou Reed; d. 2014).

THEY: Pay Tribute (A fan collaboration and tribute to TMBG)
If you are not sure, TMBG is the eccentric Brooklyn-centric They Might Be Giants. I assume that most people know them from the “Malcolm in the Middle” theme “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” While I never did get the chance to see them live (even though I’ve spent most of my life in Kings County), I’ve been aware of them since the 1980s starting with “Don’t Let’s Start.” Now, if I may digress a bit, themes of a tribute albums are a tricky thing because there are two thoughts about it, namely whether to do a “sounds like” or to take the material in a totally different direction and make it one’s own. Well, that choice is a bit easier with TMBG’s music, since they are so quirky to begin with; I would think it would be more acceptable to take the latter road. This is pretty obvious from the outset with Corn Mo’s bizarre talk/scream version of “Someone Keeps Moving My Chair.” Much of the material here is respectful it its own way, albeit in a very electronic (rather than electric) way. Lots of synthesizers abound. Not saying that’s a bad thing, but it’s a contemporary selection for certain. My issue is more that with TMBG, their off-beat lyrics are out front, where here it often gets a bit second shrift to the synths, such as Nuclear Bubble Wrap’s “Trouble Awful Devil Evil” and Holy Bongwater’s “Marty Beller Mask.” There are some more traditional cover methods, such as James K. Folk’s singer-songwriter-style “Meet the Elements,” Pearl and the Beard’s “Destination Moon,” and Insane Jan’s “Doctor Worm.” Also some are more loyal to the original, like Smashy Claw’s “Don’t Let’s Start,” and Bonecage’s “Particle Man.” A couple of other stand-outs are Rachel Hayward’s nice instrumental electro-version of “Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love” and Tom Brislin’s minimalist “Birdhouse in Your Soul.” The end cut, I believe actually are TMBG (sounds like them, though there’s a typo in the name), is the very strange “Fingertips,” proving no matter how you approach their music, there is no wrong way. There are 27 cuts on this collection, so there’s lots of music and styles from which to choose. 

Walter Lure and the Waldos
Live in Brooklyn
If I was going to pick a musician that I have seen live more than any other, it would probably be Walter Lure. Through the 1970s, ‘80s, and ’90s, there were numerous times I watched the Heartbreakers (dating back to the Richard Hell years), the Heroes (Walter’s band with his late brother Richie Lurie), and then the Waldos. The latter’s 1994 album, Rent Party, was as much a staple on my turntable as was the Heartbreakers’ L.A.M.F. (or Live at Max’s Kansas City); hell, I even got into an argument with Tom Petty over his use of the name Heartbreakers just before his first LP came out, but I digress…). When I saw this new live record, to say I was excited would be an understatement. Truth be told, I’m not sure if musician and retired stockbroker  Lure has even written a new song since the first LP, but y’know what, I don’t care; hearing him cover his 3-decade career is enough, to paraphrase what they say during Passover. There are the “standards,” if you will, such as “Get Off the Phone,” “Too Much Junkie Business,” and “Chinese Rocks,” but he also does some of the songs more associated with ex-teammate Johnny Thunders, including “Born to Lose” and “London Boys.” It’s also great to hear some of the underrated songs, such has “Golden Days” (taking new meaning these days), “Countdown Love” and the great “Never Get Away” (sorry not to see my two fave Waldos’ songs, “Crazy Little Baby” and “Sorry,” but my excitement is not diminished). My sister-from-another-mother, Nancy Neon once described “Uncle Walter” (her name for him) as “My favorite stand-up comic.” He was always amazingly self-depreciatingly wry between songs, but here it’s more focused on how great he is during the musical treats. Backing him up are a whole different tribe (EZ on bass, Joe Rizzo on drums, and Takto on guitar). The sound is clear for a live recording, and the energy level is still super high (no pun intended). Walter’s voice is a bit shakier than it was back when, but his guitar isn’t, and still more fun than most. You want to know one of the major reasons why New York was so important to what would be known as punk? Well, here ya go. And while I’m at it, Nancy’s two-part interview with Walter from 1981 is HERE  and HERE
O-Rama /

Friday, January 5, 2018

THE GOODest Story Ever Told: A Semi-Eyewitness Account [1980]

By Dave Meinzer / Rockers Magazine, 1980
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet
This article was originally printed in Buffalo, NY-based Rockers periodical, which was published from 1979-1980.  This article is from the March 1980 issue, and was written by Buffalo musician Dave Meinzer. For a while, Dave was also in a very early version of The Good, and later formed his own cult band, Davy and the Crocketts. They released some great vinyl on local BCMK Records that are worth seeking out. This article is published with his permission.

I still remember where I was when, in high school, Bernie Kugel told me he was thinking of picking up the guitar. And here’s a little known fact: before there was the Good, there was Les Biens. It consisted of Bernie on guitar and vocals, and a pathetic me on bass. Between Bernie’s mom, Goldie, going ballistic about the name (“It sounds like ‘lesbian’!”), my totally admitted ineptitude, and Bernie moving away to attend Buffalo State College, Les Biens soon transformed into the Good when he arrived Upstate. Now, Bernie has been inducted in the Buffalo Musicians Hall of Fame for his work in the Good and the Mystic Eyes. HERE is a photo essay of Bernie.

Dee Pop would move to NYC and become an extremely influencial drummer in bands like the Bush Tetras and the Gun Club. Vincent Gallo would move out West and become a well-known actor, and also direct films like Buffalo '66 (1998), which would be dedicated, in part, to Bernie Kugle [sic].

I'm sure Bernie and Dave won't mind if I dedicate this reprint to Mary Martin Moser. - Robert Barry Francos - 2018.

Photo by Dennis Concepcion

This guy and this girl

Out West in the 1880s
The girl says to the guy
‘I'm goin’ off with your best friend’
He says, ‘Well you can do that but
I’m gonna be back after I
Walk around the world…
To prove my love for you.’
“Walk Around The World,” Bernle Kugel © 1980
The Good are on stage at the Muscular Dystrophy Dance Marathon in Buffalo State College’s Social Hall. Most of the captive dancers are having a grand time as are a large number of paying customers. People are yelling and screaming during loud, tightly played versions of such Good songs as “Walk Around The World” and “She’s The Kind of Girl You Can Trust.” Girls are grabbing at the tails of Good leader Bernie Kugel’s oversize T-shirt. People laugh and dance their way through progressively messy but enjoyable versions of rock‘n’roll classics “Road Runner,” “Gloria” and (killing two birds with one stone) a simultaneous medley of “Louie, Louie” and “Wild Thing.”
That was November 1979; I was there. I wasn’t in the band then, but there have been times...
The Good is Bernie Kugel, plain and simple. Musicians (and other odd sorts) come and go (and come again), but Bernie and his sense of humor and romance stay. He writes the songs. All of his songs are about love: how being in love is “like getting mail on Sunday,” the promise of wedded bliss, or just the reminiscence of a happy time. Bernie says he writes songs “to try to explain what it’s like to walk down Elmwood Avenue alone late at night.”
Bernie and RBF - Photo by Suzanne Newman
Bernie first played with a band called the Good In September of 1976, at a Buffalo State arts fair. He set up in the Student Union lobby with three backing musicians and began playing songs he’d written. Things didn’t go well and bass player Vinnie Catera quit toward the end of the set. Drummer Doug Webb packed up during the last song. Guitarist Sean Smith wound up sitting on the edge of the stage with a mandolin; Bernie wound up with bleeding fingers and a reputation.
For reasons I don’t remember, I was there that time, too; I helped Webb get his drums home.
The Good reappeared in the dormitories of Buffalo State when Bernie was introduced to Marlene Weisman, who had a similar New York City/CBGB’s taste in music. UB journalism student Dee Pop became the drummer after Bernie loaned him $60 for a beat up set of Swap Sheet drums. Marlene played a borrowed bass guitar for a while, but had problems (including falling down a flight of stairs and breaking the bass, leaving it with three strings) so Bernie’s roommate, Steve Lum, took over. This band played one show, with the legendary Blue Reimondoes (now the Party Nuggets), at Buffalo State in May 1977.
Marlene rejoined the band in the fall as lead vocalist, singing Bernie’s songs from a female point of view. They performed once, for a class at UB. “They kept telling us to turn it down,” Bernie remembers, “and (Dee) didn’t have anything to hold his drums down, and he had to keep chasing them across the floor in the middle of songs.”
A few months later I rehearsed with Bernie and Dee as a bass player, but that version of the band never performed. Mac McKernan also played with them around this time.
Bernie’s next appearance was once again at Buffalo State, as a guest playing with the Jumpers during their debut performance in February 1978. In the crowd was guitarist Dave McCreary, who later asked Bernie if he could play In the Good. Dee stayed on drums and Play It Again, Sam’s [a long gone but still beloved record store on Elmwood Ave – RBF, 2018] resident kid, Little John Simon, played the same old bass, which now had four strings again.
Photo by RBF
By May, however, Buffalo State photography student Jef Allen had come to me looking for a band to play bass in. I referred him to Bernie (who had left a “Wanted: rock‘n’roll players not into drugs, for original band” notice in my office on the Buffalo State campus). Several other people had suggested the same thing, so Jef replaced Little John, who was too young to play in the bars Bernie hoped would hire the Good.
On the same May 1978 night that my band, Davy and the Crocketts, first performed at the Central Park Grill, this version of the Good made their only appearance. Dee (who played for both bands that night) soon quit the Good (and the Crocketts) to play with Kenmore punk band the Secrets full time. Two replacements were auditioned: Tim Switala (Rockers writer, UB Spectrum music editor and now in his own band, Eddie Haskell) and Russ Schoenwetter. Bernie chose Russ, “because he played softer.”
The Kugel-Allen-McCreary-Schoenwetter Good played more often, and as a result better, than any previous version of the band. Kugel songs like “Faith in Rock,” “Let’s Get Married” and “Be Truthful,” as well as covers of “Back in the U.S.A.” and “Pipeline,” were features of shows at Buffalo State, McVan’s and Hallwalls.
Unfortunately that band broke up when Russ had to leave town, $4,000 in debt. They rehearsed a couple of times for a Play It Again Sam’s sponsored single featuring “Back in the U.S.A.” (with the Jumpers’ Roger Nicol on drums), but the deal fell through and the band split up. Jef joined the then-forming Tourists (now Third Floor Strangers) and Dave started playing with Mark Freeland’s Electroman.
January of ’79, Bernie was back with the ninth version (more or less) of the Good. He performed on Gary Storm’s “Oil of Dog” radio show and at the Masthead with Vince Gallo on bass and guitarist Professor Scum (now known as Pfc. Parts of the new band Stripsearch). Professor Scum quit shortly after Larry Galanowitz joined on drums.
That winter, the band opened for the Enemies and the Tourists at McVan’s, and played a farewell show at the Masthead before going Into Tom Calandra’s College of Musical Knowledge Studios to record “Looking For You,” “Mail on Sunday” and “I’m Calling You,” all Kugel originals. Within a week Bernie had moved back to his parent’s house in Brooklyn.
Though he jammed with various people (including the Zantees, and Chris Stamey and the Db’s) Bernie got nothing going in New York. A visit to Buffalo in late July included a guest appearance at my birthday party (with Jef Allen on bass and Bruce Eaton on drums), and a special show at the Masthead with Russ Schoenwetter, Vince Gallo, and Dave McCreary playing drums and bass, Gary Horowitz and Rachael Weinstein adding keyboards, Bill LeStrange on saxophone and guitarist Bob Kozak (former Jumper and Tourist, one of Bernie’s best friends and a collaborator on several songs). I got to play tambourine on a song.
My real chance to play percussion with the Good came a couple of months later when Bernie moved back to Buffalo. He first started playing with Gary Horowitz (Farfisa organ and electric piano) and working out new songs he’d written while living in Brooklyn, most of which were musically more sophisticated than the two and three chord tunes of the early Good. Kathy Moriarty and I volunteered to be a temporary rhythm section. (We turned out to be more temporary than expected.) We played one show in late October with Extra Cheese at McVan’s, introducing Good fans to songs like “Walk Around the World” (written on his front porch in Brooklyn) and “Clouds.”
Three weeks later Bernie and Gary played the Buffalo State Dance Marathon with Bob Kozak on bass and Mike Brydalski (ex-Extra Cheese) on drums. Two days later Mike left for California and Bob’s friend Mike Hylant replaced him.
This is the band that played the New Wave New Year’s Party at the Buffalo Entertainment Theatre, and accompanied Bernie when he returned to Tom Calandra’s studio recently to record “Walk Around the World” and “Clouds” for a BCMK single to be released later this month. I sang a few high notes and twisted a few dials for which I earned a co-production credit.
Obviously Bernie is a survivor. When Bob and Mike quit to form their own band sometime soon, Bernie will search for, and find, a rhythm section for the Good, Mark 14.
More recent - Photo by RBF
Bernie is also rather literate. A former fanzine editor (Big Star Magazine) and contributor to the Shakin Street Gazette, Foxtrot, New York Rocker and Lord knows how many other small magazines for rock‘n’roll fanatics, he’s eager to provide quotes. They are the kind of quotes that can be pulled from an article and used as kickers and captions. Here are a few he gave me:
“It seems that everybody who’s ever been in a band in Buffalo seems to pass through my band on their way to... something.”
“Should I give a list of who all these songs are about so riots go on in Buffalo?”
“The happiest times in my life have been playing guitar on stage with a rock‘n’roll l band.”        
“I don’t care how much money I have just as long as I have one square meal every two days and my clothes laundered without getting them starchy and making my legs itch.” “My best rock‘n’roll moment came when I tried to teach Vince Gallo ‘Whole Lotta Shakin Goin’ On’ and he asked me if I wrote it.”
“I knew I should come back to Buffalo when I played tambourine with Davy and the Crocketts at Dave’s party in the summer time. It was a great party. Send in your petition to have Dave have a birthday party more often!”
Whatever... Bernie Kugel still looks two-thirds his actual age, still writes great songs, and still wears pants that don’t fit right.
And as you can see, the saga of the Good is a long and involved one. Not every story (Marlene’s bracelets, Dave McCreary’s saxophone, and what Vince Gallo is up to now) could be told and not every person (Brett, Jennifer – owner of the three-string bass, Friday Night Dave...) could be mentioned. If I left your name out, tough bananas.
Besides, Bernie Kugel still doesn’t say my name right...